Colombia’s government has appealed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help it break pharmaceutical giant Novartis’ monopoly on a life-saving cancer drug, which would allow the country to buy cheaper, generic versions for its citizens.
On Monday at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Colombia’s Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria stated that the sustainable development of countries like Colombia was being threatened by the high prices of necessary drugs.
Novartis’ drug Gleevec was what he had in mind.
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Gleevec, or Glivec, is an essential drug for those with certain forms of cancer but, at the moment, Novartis charges nearly double a Colombian’s median annual income for a year of treatment, according to the Huffington Post.
If Novartis’ monopoly on the drug were broken, a generic version of the drug could be produced that could cost 30% less, reported The Intercept.
To begin with, Colombia offered Novartis a proposal where they would lower the price of their drug but keep their monopoly.
Novartis rejected Colombia’s proposal and the two are now locked in a stalemate that looks destined for the courtroom.
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“The process has been accompanied by a big international debate and also, I want to add clearly, by some pressure,” said the Minister of Health, Alejandro Gaviria
According to Gaviria there is some flexibility when it comes to intellectual property, and the WHO has told countries to use this to promote the rational use of drugs.
“In light of our experience it has become clear that although these flexibilities exist in the theory of treaties and multilateral pronouncements, in practice they are very difficult to apply.”
Gaviria appealed to the WHO to help the states that are looking to break monopolies and promote the distribution of much needed medicines.
122 lawyers and health experts across the world recently signed a letter to the Colombian government endorsing their stance against Novartis. It remains to be seen whether the WHO will officially join them.